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Friday, February 3, 2023
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RRR & Chhello Show: Changing Indian Cinema’s Narrative Globally

When it comes to the Oscars race, RRR and Chhello Show (Last Film Show) have been talks of the town. While the latter is selected as India’s official submission, the former continues to gain traction internationally. It has become the first Indian title to win a Golden Globe. Recently, took home the trophy for ‘Best Foreign Film’ at Critics’ Choice Award.

If we introspect over the years, for a while, cinema from India was recognised majorly for ‘Bollywood’ aka Hindi cinema. The larger-than-life, big-budget movies surfaced in becoming the mainstream. However, lately, films in that language have specifically been heavily scrutinised, especially post the demise of Sushant Singh Rajput. Many of these reasons are often due to the lacklustre content and audience awareness of insensitive societal and cultural representations, especially that of the Hindu community. Though, it must be cleared that it is not just this industry that portrays these regressive aspects. (A separate article is required for this.)

During this time, there has been a significant rise in movies of South-Indian languages gaining huge traction, like never before. Of course, films like Meri Jung and Baahubali are a few titles which certainly have contributed to the ‘Pan-India’ appeal. In fact, even if we look at classics such as Sadma and Himmatwala, the collaborations between South and North were ongoing. But for some reason, this became less prominent and Indian cinemas became divided by region. The concept of ‘mainstream’ was determined by one language cinema only.

All those aspects aside, some of the Hindi pictures which tanked at the box office were made prior to the pandemic. Perhaps some of these movies, had they been released before the pandemic, would’ve worked. But the sensibilities of viewers, not just in India, but globally too, have changed. It seems as though now audiences are now vouching for films which are ‘rooted’ culturally and emotionally. An example is the major success of Kantara, which highlights Tulu Nadu’s indigenous Buta Kola tradition. A simple picture, which gained a lot of moolah at the box office.

Even in the Hindi language, titles like The Kashmir Files (TKF), Brahmastra and Gangubai Kathiawadi also succeeded commercially due to the context revolving around Indian culture and history. TKF specifically captures a hushed voice and story that was brushed under the carpet for way too long. The public appears to appreciate films which exude sentimental value or reminiscence of sorts. For instance, Drishyam 2 and Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 are among the highest Bollywood grossers of 2022. This shows that despite frequent criticisms of remakes, engaging and humble adaptations can succeed commercially. The sincerity/integrity of the director’s voice is what determines how triumphant a movie will be.

So, coming to RRR and Chhello Show, both of these movies represent this changing trajectory of Indian cinema. The first title, helmed by SS Rajamouli is based on two real-life Indian revolutionaries, Alluri Sitarama Raju and Komaram Bheem their fictionalised friendship in battling colonialism. Through stunning visual aesthetics and an engaging score, the epic is nonchalant about embracing its Bhartiya culture and Dharma. Hence, why it is quite fascinating how this has also related to Western critics. Overall, through star power and stunning action sequences, it presents the power and gravitas of Telugu cinema.

In 2020, media reports indicate that Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada film fraternities altogether grossed revenue of Rs 1,040 crore. Reportedly, these surpassed that of Hindi film markets where box office collection has remained at Rs 870 crores. Nationalism too is a major trope which entices audiences. Indian audiences are no longer afraid to showcase their love for the country. RRR emphasises these emotions and unites the new India. It is a powerful, cinematic reminder of how the nation’s unity can fight back the shackles of oppression.

Pan Nalin’s movie Last Film Show, comparatively, is earthier but yet a love letter to Gujarat’s Kathiawad district. An extract of the director’s childhood and tryst with cinema. The movie itself chronicles the life of a young boy from a Gujarati village who falls in love with light and cinema. Befriending a cinema projectionist, he negotiates his lunch in exchange for watching movies. We see how his passion changes with the evolvement of reel to digital technology. This picture is visually exquisite. The representation of passion and excitement towards cinema resonates with every film enthusiast, especially on the Bollywood side. Plus, the fight for his dream is relatable. It poignantly showcases the hustle every Indian has gone through for a utopian life. And that struggle continues for some, even today.

Nalin showcases cinema through a spiritual lens. Where the role of god is not just watching over the protagonist, but a guiding force through life. The film exhibits spell-binding cinematography and crisp camerawork, creating a distinct experience for audiences of the said language. It endeavours to comprehend the struggles the financially challenged section of society goes through. Historically, Gujarati cinema narrated rural and semi-urban stories based on folk tales and novels. It then proceeded to showcase urban narratives in acclaimed titles such as Kevi Rite Jaish, which changed the game for the fraternity. However, award-winning pictures like Hellaro and Last Film Show fuse both rural and contemporary influences together.

When it comes to profits, Gujarati cinema is not as high in comparison to the South or any other industry. Some distributors claim that 95 per cent of Gujarati movies do not even break even. Hence, Chhello Show is a beacon of hope for the industry of breaking through the barriers, which it already has done in its own way. Awards and accolades aside, both movies have proven that ‘local is global’. They embrace their culture, roots and sentimentality with a heartfelt approach.

Sure, a lot of money has been spent on the campaigns, but why not? It’s about time the world realised the beauty India really has when it comes to filmmaking. Having said that, both language cinemas have been sidelined due to the popularity rat race. But now, it’s their time to shine.

Having explored the changing trends through these movies, one can conclude that there is no competition as to which film is ‘more deserving’ for The Oscars. Even though Hindi cinema too is receiving harsh reactions, it is still an integral part of our lives and solely requires some necessary reforms. At the end of the day, it is Indian cinema that wins internationally. Solidarity is what great leaders like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel strived for and ultimately, it is generally the tricolour that will be applauded.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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